Ten places I’ve lived

  1. Dayton. Inside the city limits but with a working dairy farm a half-block across the street.
  2. Bloomington. On the Indiana University campus, and later at the edge of town.
  3. Binghamton. In the ‘hood, then on a hippie farm near the New York-Pennsylvania line.
  4. The yoga ashram. Out on a yoga farm in the Pocono mountains.
  5. Fostoria. In a loft downtown, over St. Vincent’s charity store, in what was once Ohio’s Great Black Swamp.
  6. Yakima, Washington. Including three years in an orchard.
  7. Warren, Ohio. We bought a lovely arts-and-crafts bungalow in an industrial city in economic collapse.
  8. Baltimore. Downtown in the trendy Bolton Hill neighborhood and then out in suburban Owings Mills.
  9. Manchester, New Hampshire. By the Merrimack River, then atop the tallest hill.
  10. Dover, New Hampshire. A mile from downtown. The longest I’ve lived in the same house, by the way.

And one other place that never really counted.

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Tell us something good or bad about someplace you’ve lived. Like maybe your favorite?

Spending nights at the opera on my laptop

When I graduated from college 50 years ago, I expected to wind up living and laboring in a major metropolis like New York, Chicago, or Seattle where nights at the opera or symphony would have been part of the package. As you can see, my life took a much different direction. In fact, working weekends and nights along with the bottom-tier professional wages of my profession curtailed much of my attendance where I was, even for the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD showings in local movie theaters.

Surprisingly, now in the midst of our Covid-19 cloistering, I’m relishing in daily free online streaming of past performances from the Met’s series, and what a revelation they are.

Each show gives me a fuller awareness of the stellar productions than I could ever get from listening to the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts – incidentally, available where I live only by streaming. Well, that’s another rant, though I’ll send out a shout to both Harvard’s student-run FM station and New York’s WQXR for their participation.

The university I attended was acclaimed for its opera department, with a show every Saturday night and, as I recall, seven productions during the regular school year. Each of these was in English, which I found made the experience feel more like going to a Broadway musical rather than an esoteric ceremony. It was pointedly called opera theater, with an emphasis on blending music and showtime, abetted by stage directors like Ross Allen who insisted on historically correct motions for the periods being presented. A woman wouldn’t have shown her ankle while dancing, for instance, or sat in a particular posture, that sort of thing. As for facial expressions or delving into the psyche of a role? That wasn’t widely valued in earlier incarnations of the art form. But today?

Back to the Live in HD.

Imagine a Hollywood movie being filmed straight-through in a few hours like this, rather than gleaning only a minute or two of usable film a day, as is standard in the cinema biz. There’s no room for retakes in a live performance, and yet what I’m viewing is cinematically gripping. The acting is extraordinary, and the stars are visually and vocally convincing – something that wasn’t often the case when I got hooked back in the ’60s. I’m enthralled simply considering the camera work (and planning) behind each of these. (I have a feeling we’re deeply indebted to NFL and MLB technology and practice on this front – think of those crisp facial closeups shot from the other side of the field.) As for the lighting? Wow.

Opera is often discussed as the pinicle of the arts and their muses – vocal, choral, and instrumental music conjoined with drama, dance, poetry, scenery and costumes in the theater itself. It’s a collective enterprise, the way movies are. Well, I often consider it as the movies of the 19th century and, let’s not forget, the distinctively operatic singing style evolved to project into a hall long before electronic amplification existed. The vocal style is not as frilly as you might think but is actually quite flexible and expressive, even if it’s often an acquired taste.

As I was saying about these productions?

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What do you know about rocks?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, their neighbor Todd is a geologist. You know, a rocks guy. The Ozarks is where he and his wife Lucy meet Joshua and Jaya.

The place is a mineral-rich geological wonder.

Here’s part of the attraction he’d have where they are in Arkansas.

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  1. Lead. The major ore that was mined. Still is.
  2. Zinc. The other major ore.
  3. Vanadium. Used in metal alloys.
  4. Diamonds. Mostly of industrial grade.
  5. Barite. The main source of barium.
  6. Tripoli. Used mostly as an abrasive in polishing and buffing compounds and as a filler in a variety of products.
  7. Quartz crystal. Used in electrical products, glassmaking, and for hardness in abrasives – in addition to its popularity in metaphysical healing circles.
  8. Gypsum. Used in a number of construction products.
  9. Chalk. Its range of uses include toothpaste.
  10. Bauxite. Used in the chemical, steel, petroleum, and cement industries, it’s also the principal source of aluminum.

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What do you know about rocks?

Have you ever lived in a desert?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state.

The city’s doubled in population since I lived there, but I’m not surprised. It’s mostly sunny.

Here are ten factoids.

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  1. The name applies to the city, the county, the valley, and until recently, the Indians, too.
  2. The valley gets nearly nine inches of rain in a typical year, most of it in the winter. Almost every green thing that sprouts requires irrigation. And if that supply fails, everything goes kaput.
  3. The valley produces more than 75 percent of the hops used in American beer – and a quarter of the hops used worldwide. If you’re a beer lover, be grateful. The locale also raises a lot of barley, up in the Horse Heaven Hills.
  4. The valley has more than 70 wineries. It’s become a great place to grow varietal grapes, many of which are pressed into fermentation elsewhere. On the globe, it lines up quite well with France.
  5. The trolleys have been running for more than a hundred years. Fun trip, by the way, especially the ones that run out through the orchards.
  6. The original site of the city was renamed Union Gap, made famous by the rocker Gary Puckett.
  7. Yakima County leads the nation in apple production, with 55,000 acres of active orchards. It’s the state’s highest valued agricultural product. By the way, they’re no longer mostly Red Delicious.
  8. The average income of an apple picker is $6 a day.
  9. The Native Americans have renamed their tribe and reservation as Yakama. One letter makes a huge difference.
  10. I still miss living there, especially Mount Adams every morning.

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So what’s special about where you live?